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Alaya Vijnana In Mahayana Buddhism

Alaya Vijnana literally means a bed of consciousness. It is a term used in Mahayana Buddhism and is the concept of the Yogacara School, one of the important sects of Mahayana Buddhism. Yogacara is also said to be Vijnanavada because it holds the view that only vijnana or consciousness is the sole reality and the empirical world is illusory. Since the external object perceived by consciousness does not hold its independence, the perception of external object is not tenable. The word alaya means griha (house) or a place and vijnana means consciousness or the mode of comprehending the object. Here, the question arises as to the object of alaya vijnana. Alaya vijnana also has an object but its object is so subtle, indefinite and illimitable that it cannot be visualized. It is of an indeterminate content. It is so pure that it is not even felt like others. It is so because Alaya Vijnana appears in two ways

  1. Upadana Vijnapti (internally as consciousness appearing as the constituent of an individual.)
  2. Aparaicchinna-karabhajana-vijnapati (externally as consciousness of the undifferentiated objectivity) (VMS, III.37)

Alaya Vijnana is the basic foundation of other vijnanas such as caksurvijnana, srotra-vijnana, etc. It is the first phase in the process of differentiation of pure vijnana. It contains the vasana (motivating desire) of any karma, whether it is good or bad or indifferent; so it is called alaya-sarvabijakam. It is also called vipaka because the karma of an individual in any sphere of existence leaves its trace in the alaya. The vasanas of all vijnanas are accumulated in the alaya and it gives rise to further vijnanas by maturing the accumulated impression. Alaya vijnana is a stream of consciousness that stops when one attains Buddha-hood.